McLarty was born in Hope, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1969. He is a member of Sigma Chi Fraternity. He worked through the ranks of Hope Auto Company, the business founded by his grandfather, Thomas F. "Mr. Tom" McLarty. After serving a term in the Arkansas House of Representatives, he concentrated his efforts on growing the family's truck leasing business, first called M&M Leasing, later to become McLarty Leasing. He expanded the family's Arkansas dealership network to locations in Hope, Texarkana, Magnolia, and Little Rock. He was urged in many Democratic Party circles to seek the governor's chair vacated by David Pryor in 1978, but he deferred to his childhood friend and fellow Hope native, Bill Clinton. He was elected to the state legislature at the age of 24, serving a single term from 1971–1973 and served as chairman of the state Democratic Party, from 1974–1976."
In 1976, he became the youngest member ever elected to the board of directors of the Arkla Gas/Arkla, Inc., a Fortune 500 natural gas company. In 1983 he became Arkla's chairman and chief executive officer. During his tenure, the company was recognized by Forbes, The Wall Street Transcript, and The Financial Times for management excellence, in addition to his automotive endeavors.
He has a distinguished record of business leadership and public service, including various roles advising three presidents: Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
He served as White House chief of staff to Bill Clinton, from 1993 until 1994. In early months of the first year McLarty and his team were able to have put in place a deficit-reduction plan; set up the first National Economic Council; had passed NAFTA; and signed into law the Brady Bill. While Clinton won with just 43% of the vote, he ended his first year with support by 55% of the American electorate, largely attributable to legislative victories.. In 1994, the Clinton appointed OMB director, Leon Panetta, as his chief of staff.
McLarty is a lifelong friend of Clinton's, having been in the same kindergarten class. He was also a counselor to the president after leaving the chief of staff position; and was simultaneously appointed special envoy for the Americas until his resignation, on April 24, 1998. He also served for five years on the National Economic Council."
Serving as Clinton's "special envoy for the Americas," he was a key figure in the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which was supported by the Council of the Americas, established by David Rockefeller, in 1965. He was a top official at the 1994 Miami Summit of the Americas, which laid the groundwork for this Trade bloc; as well as serving as a key liaison to Clinton for Rockefeller's Council in the implementation of the trade agreement.
The McLarty Companies comprises 11 automotive dealerships located in five states that generate in excess of $600 million. McLarty began his career building the company his grandfather founded, McLarty Leasing Systems, into one of the nation's largest transportation companies. Upon leaving the White House in July 1998, McLarty returned to the McLarty Companies, as its chairman.
CommercialAcxiom Corporation, director
Union Pacific Railroad, director
Leeds Equity Partners, advisory board
Cato Institute, advisory board
Inter-American Dialogue, Co-Vice Chair
Diligence Llc. (Intelligence and Risk Management Consulting), advisory board
Carlyle Group, senior advisor (From 2003)
Center for the Study of the Presidency, trustee
Religions for Peace, International Council of Trustees
New Democrat Network, advisory board
America Abroad Media, advisory board
United States-Mexico Binational Council, member
Council on Foreign Relations, member (2001)